BWW Reviews: THE BOOK OF MORMON Is Freakin' Awesome
"OMG, what a freakin' awesome show!" said someone in the lobby during intermission for The Book of Mormon - the hottest ticket in San Francisco right now. The Book of Mormon has been hailed as one of the top musicals of the decade and now through January 19, 2014, San Francisco audiences will have the opportunity to judge for themselves as to whether a musical about Mormons on a mission to win converts to the Church of Latter Day Saints deserves such an accolade. If opening night was any indication, then the Book of Mormon has nothing to fear. Holding court at SHNSF's Orpheum Theatre, the show was greeted with riotous laughter, thunderous applause and, in the end, a rousing standing ovation. In short, it was spectacular.
Let's start with the stats. It was written by the satirical dynamic duo of Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame along with writer Robert Lopez, who won the Tony for Best Original Score for Avenue Q (which some have called the rate-R version of Sesame Street for grown-ups). So you're talking some heavy-weight audacious, pugnacious paragons of parody with rapier wits and huge cajones to boot. And they weren't afraid to swing them in the service of their show and it paid off for them big time. 'Mormon' took the Broadway world by storm garnering an astonishing fourteen Tony nominations and taking home nine, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score for the triumphant trio, who redefined what it meant to be a triple threat on Broadway that night at the 2011 Tony Awards.
A musical about Mormons. What's so fearsome about that? Only the end of organized religion as we know it. Okay, maybe not quite that but clearly, behind the lampooning, biting humor and the eminently hummable tunes, the Book of Mormon is really a call for religion to be hu-man-i-fied; that is, brought back down to earth in the service of humanity. Yes, it skewers Mormons, but the send-up is done in such a goofy and yes, loving way that you can't help but laugh, even if it might be at your own expense. Oh yeah, yours, because even though the focus is on Mormons, it's really about all literalized religions. Stone has called the show an "atheist love letter to religion" and I think that might be spot on but more on that later.
Broadway aficionados will quickly catch on that 'Mormon' is also an homage as well as a spoof of all things Broadway. With references to Wicked, Lion King and the Sound of Music just to name a few - and with an almost apostolic adherence to the traditional musical format, 'Mormon' has got it all.
The show begins at the Latter-day Saint version of boot-camp in Provo, Utah where handsome missionary-in-training Elder Kevin Price (the glorious Nic Rouleau) is preparing for his two-year mission assignment, which he is certain will be spent in Orlando, Florida. He knows he's an awesome Mormon and hasn't a doubt that Heavenly Father will give him the gig of his dreams. What a shock then, when he finds out that he's being sent to Uganda - and that he's been paired with a nerdy elder named Arnold Cunningham (a wonderfully bumbling A.J. Holmes). Arnold, for his part, is over-the-moon about playing second-string to the great and powerful Price.
So away they go - two white guys in ties off to baptize the unwashed masses in Uganda and save their souls for Jesus. Armed only with The Book of Mormon -- that all-American sequel to the Bible that prophet Joseph Smith copied down from heaven-sent golden plates in the 1840s in upstate New York -- the boys are determined to make the other Elders proud.
What a joy it is to watch Rouleau and Holmes embody the buddies in all their newly minted glory. Full of verve and proselytizing potential Rouleau's Price sings a thinly veiled tribute to himself in the duet "You and Me (but Mostly Me)," while his sidekick Cunningham interjects when he can, thrilled to be second mate and the side dish, if you will, to Price's place as the main course on the table of life.
Scott Pask won a well-earned Tony for his scenic design, taking the boys from pristine Provo, Utah to the underbelly of Uganda in a New York minute. He transforms the stage over and over (his Spooky Mormon Hell is a sight to behold) but keeps the polished proscenium intact throughout the show. An alabaster white architectural approximation of contemporary Mormon temples (think space ship to the stars) the structure is graced with a gleaming golden statue of the Mormon angel Moroni that spins and twirls at pivotal points in the show.
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